Today we're chatting with the lovely Paula Chase Hyman, who I had the fortune to hang out with at KidLit Con '09 on Saturday. I've "met" her online on the Teenlit loop, and I'm happy to say that she's just as sweet and fun in person as she is on the 'net.
Paula writes the Del Rio Bay series for Kensington's Dafina imprint. Her most recent -- the 5th in the series -- is called FLIPPING THE SCRIPT. Her main character's boyfriend has gone off to Duke to play ball, and well, as a ginormous Duke fan, that's right up my alley! I've read some of the earlier books in the series, and can't wait to read this one!
Please give her a big Fictionistas welcome!
AB: Tell us something about yourself.
PCH: I’m thoroughly neurotic and a foodie. And if those two things seem to have nothing to do with one another, that’s sort of me in a nutshell – a little odd and always up for a good meal. The single most consistent thing about me is, I’m propelled by my moods and emotions, a lot. A few years ago, I realized it wasn’t that I was a moody person, but that I enjoy being inside my head. It’s how I create and where the stories come from and when I’m not allowed time to do that, I get really irritable. Yet, I’m still a really social person. It’s almost like there are two me’s. The friends who have stuck around the longest are the ones who deal with my two sides as if it’s perfectly normal.
AB: How did you get the inspiration for the Del Rio Bay series?
PCH: Six months prior to the story hitting me I’d been laid off from a nice, one might even say cushy PR job. I was on the early end of the tech bust layoffs. I’d taken the time off to freelance and it’s amazing when you’re given that first real chance to create freely. It was as if another whole side of my brain had been awakened. I think the story had been in my head all along, but, until then, it had been crammed under too many other things. One Saturday morning I woke up with Mina Mooney and her friends in my head. I knew all their names and their background and I started writing immediately. The concept of a co-ed clique wasn’t a stretch because my own high school clique had been like that.
Once the story came to me, I did a little research on the YA market. My daughter was only about eight, at the time, so she wasn’t quite at the YA stage yet. But I was saddened by the lack of diversity in YA books. It surprised me that the books were just as vanilla as they had been when I was a kid. I loved Sweet Valley High as a young reader and I kept scouring the shelves wondering where that type of book was with a more diverse cast. I didn’t find it. So I knew the book I was writing would fill a void.
AB: You're so right! OK, so when writing a series, did you plan the entire thing out ahead of time, or do you get ideas for each book as you go along?
PCH: Let me tell you, just reading the words “plan the entire thing out” gave me chills. And not the good kind. Outlining scares me to death. If you think I’m kidding, ask my agent about my attempt to do so, with a new series idea I had, last year.
No outlining for me. I’d written the first two books in the series back-to-back in 2003. Once my original two-book deal was expanded to five, I didn’t think too much about what the next book would be about until it was time to write it. I took one book at a time and focused totally on the characters – where they were, where I thought they’d organically go from that point in their lives. It was a great experience.
AB: What authors do you read?
PCH: I tend to read the authors I’ve met and befriended along the way, which feels legion when I walk into the bookstore. My most recent reads were Coe Booth’s Kendra and Neesha Meminger’s Shine, Coconut Moon. Sitting by my bed now are Suzanne Collins’ Catching Fire and Maggie Stiefveter’s Shiver. Waiting to snatch it up as soon as it’s out, is Varian Johnson’s Saving Maddie.
When it comes to adult fiction, I like horror, true crime and suspense. I’ll read pretty much anything by Stephen King and I used to feel the same about James Patterson, but I don’t enjoy his co-authored books as much and he seems to be doing those more, lately. The truth is I’m in the process of teaching myself how to read for pleasure, again. Slowly but surely I’m getting better at it but I get into these auto pilot modes where writing is my single focus. Reading a book both takes my attention away from it and makes me yearn to write. It’s weird. The yearning is good, but I don’t like having so many voices in my head at once and for me to truly enjoy a good book I’ve got to let those characters inside my head.
AB: Totally agree with you on that Varian Johnson book. I checked out the back cover of his ARC at KidLit and it looks great! I also agree with you about James Patterson. I was such a Patterson junkie with the early Alex Cross books, but it seems all he does these days are the co-authored books. OK, moving on. Who is your favorite character (from your own books or any other books out there)?
PCH: This may be a weird answer, but I really like Elphaba, the “witch,” from Gregory Maguire’s Wicked. Is that weird? That book…I’ve read it like half a dozen times since it came out years ago. In Elphaba, it’s the first time I’ve ever had a literary relationship with a character both as a child and an adult. I mean as a kid this character terrified me – at least the movie version of her in the Wizard of Oz. What kid did not have nightmares from her cackle? But then I read Wicked and was just like, wow. Her journey as this outcast kid to a college student to finally being labeled a “witch” gripped me. For me, she symbolizes how misunderstood people can be, even to those closest to them. We don’t always vocalize why we do the things we do to the people around us. We don’t always want to. And sometimes we’re frustrated that we should even have to and that character is an extreme example of what happens when you shield too much of yourself from people.
AB: OK, now it's time for some standard Fictionistas' interview questions that really don't have anything to do with anything, but we always ask them.
PCH: My purse is ridiculous. There’s a whole bunch of nothing in it. But five things that must always swim among the “nothing” is a tube of lip gloss, my wallet (I just got one of those flat kind and I love it!), a pen (I’m pen monogamous and never share!), my Starbucks card so I get 10% off every purchase (don’t ask why that’s not in the wallet) and an iPod charger. And here’s the thing, I don’t even carry my iPod. But for reasons unknown to man, the charger is always in my purse.
AB: Tell us about your pets, if any.
PCH: No pets in the Hyman household. I refuse. I know it’ll just be one more thing I’ve got to find time for. My girls want a dog and my husband was actually considering it. This from a man who is not really a pet lover. Yeah, that would turn out real well. However as a kid I always had a dog and I love dogs. I just don’t feel like having one more creature reliant upon me for food and attention and stuff.
AB: One item of makeup you can't live without.
PCH: Lip gloss!!!! I think I need to put some on now even though it’s bed time.
AB: LOL! Worst high school memory?
PCH: Ok, some people are going to hate me for this but I don’t have one. High School was the first Golden Age in my life, college the second. I’m sure there were bad times but the good must outweigh them because I can’t think of anything so profound it’s stuck with me.
AB: That's great! Tell us your best prom story, and you get bonus points if you let us post your prom picture. (Oh, come on, we had to ask!)
PCH: Geez, I’d have to find a prom picture for you to post it and good luck with that because I’m horrible at keeping up with pictures! I went to prom with my boyfriend (now husband), my best friend and her boyfriend. We built a good rapport with the limo driver. We called him Charlie Mack because at the time Will Smith (then The Fresh Prince) had a song about Charlie Mack “’cause he’s the first out the limo.” He was really cool and we’d started playing stupid practical jokes on him. Later that night, we asked him to take us to the Inner Harbor (in Baltimore) because the prom was at a hotel not too far away from it.
So as we’re sitting on Federal Hill overlooking the Harbor, each of us on our separate benches, talking and having a really cute, romantic moment and suddenly Charlie Mack comes running toward us. I’m talking, like the car’s on fire sprint-walk. Now keep in mind, this is Baltimore City. They’ve always had a slight er…crime issue. So my first thought is – damn, we better run too. But we stayed there and he runs up to us all out of breath and says to my boyfriend “Ay man…you have a quarter? I need to use the phone.” We just stared at him stunned for a few seconds then we all burst out laughing when we realized he was just messing with us, getting us back from teasing him all night. The morale of the story is, don’t mess with limo drivers because they have way too much time on their hands to think of ways to get you back. I recall that we did give him the quarter, too.
AB: Nice! If you could go back in time and talk to the teenage you, what would you tell her?
PCH: To savor every moment. It’s not that those were the only good times or even the best, in my life. But when you’re young you’re on a constant race to get to the next level, next step, next something. I wish I’d learned to savor and really live in the moment more, then.
AB: Good advice. So what are you working on next?
PCH: A standalone novel about a bi-racial sixteen year old who has a complicated love/hate relationship with her mom, complicated further by a secret she shares with her mom’s boyfriend. Initially, I wanted to focus on the mother-daughter relationship but as I write, it’s growing more into the story about how their relationship impacts the decisions the MC makes. I’m in crush mode with the story now, thinking about it all the time and disappointed I can’t spend more time in it. It’s my favorite phase of writing.
Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Paula!